Incredible Beaches in San Diego, California

A Local’s Guide to Incredible Beaches in San Diego – You Have to See These!

There’s a lot to love about sunny San Diego. There are very few places that boast perfect weather year-round and a whopping 70 miles of coastline. As someone who was born and raised in San Diego, I get why people flock here for the sole purpose of chilling out on one of SoCal’s picture-perfect beaches.

But with 31 beaches to choose from, choosing the right San Diego beach for you might seem like a daunting task. If it’s a world-famous surf break you’re after, make a beeline for Black’s Beach or Trestles. Or, if you’re just starting out, you can take lessons on the much more mellow swells in Pacific Beach. 

And if you’re just coming to town to soak up the SoCal sun, you’ll be absolutely spoiled for choice. Whether you’re looking for the chilled-out vibes of Encinitas, the family-friendly shores of Del Mar, or the rugged good looks of San Onofre, you’re sure to find that perfect San Diego beach for you! 

If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve put together a guide to San Diego’s best beaches – from San Onofre in the north all the way to Imperial Beach in the south!

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A Local’s Guide to the Most Incredible Beaches in San Diego

San Onofre

Best Beaches Near San Francisco: San Onofre

Located in northern San Diego, adjacent to Camp Pendleton, San Onofre is impossible to miss as you drive down the 5. Not only is the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean incredible, but it’s home to the decommissioned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  

Pull off the road and you can enjoy 3.5 miles of sandy beaches. Seasoned surfers will want to go to Trestles, a world-famous surfing spot, or Old Man’s, another world-famous surfing spot, but with more mellow waves for beginners. And if you want to make a trip out of it, you can always camp out at San Onofre Bluffs State Campground!


Best San Francisco Beaches: Oceanside

Located in North County San Diego, the city of Oceanside offers 3 miles of sandy beaches. Harbor Beach is the widest beach in town, and it’s a popular spot for watersports, fishing, and evening bonfires (only in the designated fire rings!). Plus, it’s right next to all of the oceanfront shops and restaurants at the adorable Oceanside Harbor Village.  


Must Visit Beaches in San Francisco: Carlsbad

Located just south of Oceanside is the city of Carlsbad, famous for Carlsbad City Beach (aka Tamarack Beach) and South Carlsbad State Beach. This is a popular spot for local families and surfers alike. But even if you aren’t planning a proper beach day, it’s well worth strolling along the Carlsbad Sea Wall Trail to take in the Pacific views and bask in the San Diego sunshine!


Best Beaches Near San Francisco: Leucadia

I called Leucadia home for nearly a decade, so I’m partial to this place. Beacon’s (aka Leucadia State Beach) is where I would walk from my house when I just wanted to enjoy the natural beauty of my hometown. 

I love marveling at the endless Pacific Ocean from the top of the bluffs before making my way down the steps to walk on this less-visited stretch of sand. This is a great spot for a solo day at the beach, just tanning, reading, and relaxing with the sound of the waves in the background.


Best San Francisco Beaches: Encinitas

If it’s surf you’re after, Swami’s and D Street are your spots. But if you’re just looking to have a chilled-out beach day, head to Moonlight State Beach. Moonlight is always hopping, and with volleyball courts, fire pits, a playground, excellent surfing, and more, you can be as active or as lazy as you’d like.


Must Visit Beaches in San Francisco: Cardiff

Just south of Swami’s in Encinitas is where you’ll find the lovely stretch of sand called Cardiff State Beach. There’s also the unique option of camping out at the next-door San Elijo State Beach Campground, one of the only places to camp overlooking the ocean.

If you’re in need of some good Mexican food, head across the 101, where you’ll find local favorite, Las Olas. Better yet, drive a bit down the road to my go-to spot, Roberto’s Taco Shop!

Solana Beach

Best Beaches Near San Francisco: Solana Beach

Fletcher Cove (aka Pillbox) was one of my family’s go-to beaches during my childhood, and I have fond, fond memories of this place. It’s a popular spot to have that quintessential San Diego beach day. Pack a picnic, go boogie boarding, take a stroll and marvel at the bluffs, and at the end of the day, walk over to Pizza Port, a popular local spot for seriously good pizza and beer!

Del Mar

Best San Francisco Beaches: Del Mar

As a kid, Del Mar was like my home away from home. I spent countless days at the beach here doing everything from boogie boarding as a kid to partying on the Fourth of July as an adult. With 2+ miles of sandy beaches, excellent waves, large parks, and cool local shops and restaurants, there’s so much going on in this beachside town. 

If you want to picnic at the beach, stop off at longtime local favorite Board & Brew to pick up sandwiches to take down to the beach. Or for dinner with an ocean view, Jake’s has got you covered.

Torrey Pines

Must Visit Beaches in San Francisco: Torrey Pines

If you’re craving a scenic hike, head over to the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve to take on the Torrey Pines Beach Trail. You’ll pass by picturesque Torrey pines, see unique sandstone formations, get sweeping views of the endless Pacific Ocean from the top of the bluffs, and descend onto the beach. Visit during low tide and you’ll find tidepools galore. And if you’re lucky, you may even spot dolphins, seals, sea lions, or even whales frolicking offshore.

Serious surfers will want to head to Black’s Beach instead. Hidden under the bluffs of Torrey Pines, this is where you’ll find one of the most powerful breaks in the city, which should only be attempted by advanced surfers.

La Jolla

Best Beaches Near San Francisco: La Jolla

Easily one of the best beaches in San Diego, La Jolla Shores Beach is the perfect place to glimpse local sea life, like the bright orange Garibaldi! One of the coolest things about this postcard-perfect beach is that it is the gathering place for leopard sharks in the summer. 

You can even snorkel with them. But don’t worry – they’re harmless! This is also a great spot for taking surfing lessons, going kayaking or paddleboarding, and even going scuba diving.

Pacific Beach

Best San Francisco Beaches: Pacific Beach

Like most 20-somethings from San Diego, I spent a year living in party-centric PB. This is a super popular spot for nightlife, especially for local college students, thanks to the area’s many chilled-out bars. 

Aside from surfing and sunbathing, PB boasts the 3.2-mile Ocean Front Walk, the historic Crystal Pier, and Tourmaline Surf Park Beach (a great spot to learn to surf). Pacific Beach is home to plenty of taco shops, but if you want to get a taste of the “Original Fish Taco,” be sure to stop off at Rubio’s!

Mission Beach

Must Visit Beaches in San Francisco: Mission Beach

Just south of PB is the always buzzing Mission Beach. This is a popular spot with local families who flock here to get their thrills at Belmont Park, which is home to the historic Giant Dipper and tons more family fun.

The beach here is long and wide, but if sunbathing’s not your thing, you can always ride a bike down the beachside boardwalk, go fishing off the Mission Bay jetty, take a surfing lesson, rent a boat, or go kayaking on the calm waters of nearby Mission Bay.

Ocean Beach

Best Beaches Near San Francisco: Ocean Beach

I love the hippie vibes of OB. It’s one of the things that makes this one of the most unique beaches in San Diego. This place is perfect if you have dogs because they can roam around leash-free at Dog Beach.

If you want to surf, you’ll love that there’s a designated surfer-only beach. But don’t worry if you don’t know how to surf – you can always take a lesson or head over to the designated swimming area. 

If you’re in town on a Wednesday, don’t miss out on the popular Ocean Beach Farmers’ Market. And if you need a burrito fix, go to my favorite local spot, Nico’s.


Best San Francisco Beaches: Coronado

Take the bridge from downtown over to Coronado, and you’ll be spoiled with some of the best beaches in San Diego. The most popular is the 1.5-mile-long Coronado Central Beach, which is where you’ll find the famous Hotel del Coronado. The Del, as locals call it, is a popular spot for beachfront dining and drinks.

If it’s a quintessential San Diego beach day you’re craving, Central Beach is the perfect spot. From mellow waves to beach volleyball courts and fire rings, you’ll have plenty to keep you entertained. If you’ve got your pups in tow, you can let them frolic leash-free at North Beach (aka Coronado Dog Beach). 

Imperial Beach

Must Visit Beaches in San Francisco: Imperial Beach

Located near the border with Tijuana, Mexico, Imperial Beach boasts 3.5 miles of blissfully uncrowded beaches. Head down to Imperial Beach and you can surf near the historic pier, go bird-watching at the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, ride horses on the beach with Pony Land, check out the funky Imperial Beach Outdoor Surfboard Museum, and so much more. 

And if it’s a hot summer day, grab a scoop from Cow-A-Bunga Ice Cream & Coffee near the pier!

There you have it! The 15 best beaches in San Diego, California. Do you have a favorite?


  • Justine Lopez

    Justine is a writer and editor who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust!

    In 2013, she left her hometown in California and set off on a yearlong round-the-world journey with her now-husband – they never looked back. Since then, she’s lived the expat life in Indonesia, Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, and now Dubai. Along the way, she's written and edited for magazines, newspapers, and websites in Asia and beyond.

    When she's not stoking her wanderlust by working on travel articles for Wandering Wheatleys, Justine is busy caring for her many foster cats in Dubai, seeking out all the delicious vegetarian food, and taking every chance she gets to explore a new corner of the world!

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